What is the story of Joseph in the Bible?


By BibleAsk Team

The story of Joseph is recorded in Genesis chapters 37—50 and is summarized below:

The Story of Joseph’s Early Life

Joseph was the son of Jacob and Rachel, he lived in Canaan with one full brother and ten half-brothers, and at least one half sister. Joseph was Rachel’s firstborn and Jacob’s eleventh son. He was favored by his father for his good character. So, Jacob gave him a coat of many colors (Genesis 37:3).

Joseph’s brothers saw that their father loved him more so they hated him (Genesis 37:4). Further, they were also angry with him because when he was about seventeen years old, he had a dream that indicated he would rule over the whole family (Genesis 37:5–11). The subsequent history of his life shows clearly that this dream was a divine prophetic message to comfort him through the hardships he will face.

The story of Joseph continued and told of one incident that took place, while his brothers were grazing their flocks far from home. Jacob sent Joseph to check on his brothers. When they saw him coming to them, they conspired to kill him. But Reuben, the eldest son, felt a special responsibility for his younger brother, and determined, if possible, to rescue him. So, he suggested that they throw Joseph into a pit. Ruben planned to come back and save his brother. The brothers stripped Joseph of his coat of many colors and threw him into the pit.

While Ruben was away, Judah suggested that they sell Joseph into slavery to Ishmaelite merchants. So, the brothers agreed and sold him into slavery for twenty shekels of silver (Genesis 37:28). The selling of the young man was a violation of the principle that no man has the right to subject another to involuntary servitude (Leviticus 25:39–43).

The merchants took the young man to the land of Egypt. Then, the brothers took Joseph’s colorful coat and smeared it with a goat’s blood and gave it to Jacob their father. And they claimed that a wild beast devoured him. Thus, the father believed that Joseph was killed and greatly mourned over his loss (Genesis 37:18–35).

The Story of Joseph in Potiphar’s House

The merchants sold Joseph to an Egyptian named Potiphar, who served as captain of Pharaoh’s guard. Joseph found himself in a strange country, deprived from the position of a loved son in a wealthy home lowered to the social status of a slave. But God was still at his side to bless and to prosper his life. Therefore, the young man excelled in his service and was appointed as overseer of the house of Potiphar (Genesis 39). And the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake (Genesis 39:5).

Sadly, Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph (Genesis 39:7). But he rejected her advances by saying that it would be “a wicked thing and a sin against God” (Genesis 39:9). Persistent in her efforts, Potiphar’s wife caught Joseph by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled. In rage, she fabricated a false accusation that he attempted to rape her. So, Potiphar was obliged to send Joseph to prison (Genesis 39:7–20).

Potiphar’s action in imprisoning Joseph with the political offenders may be considered extreme leniency in view of punishment customarily administered for such crimes. In later times, the punishment for an attempt at adultery was a thousand blows on the feet, and for the rape of a freewoman it was even worse (Diodorus i. 78). Potiphar’s leniency revealed his confidence in Joseph’s integrity.

The Story of Joseph in Prison

Because of God’s grace, Joseph again won the favor of his superiors in prison (Genesis 39:21–23). One day, two high ranking servants in Pharaoh’s house who had been thrown into prison asked Joseph to interpret the dreams they had the night before. Joseph gave them the interpretations, which came to pass. One was set free and returned to his previous position as the king’s cup-bearer but the other was killed (Genesis 40:1-23).

Joseph asked the cup-bearer to remember him before Pharaoh, but unfortunately he forgot. Two years later, the king had two frightening dreams. It was then that the cup-bearer recalled Joseph’s gift of dream interpretation and told Pharaoh about it testifying to his own experience.

The Story of Joseph as Governor of Egypt

So, the king called Joseph and narrated his dreams to him. By inspiration of God, Joseph gave the interpretation which revealed that there will be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine in Egypt. Then, Joseph counseled Pharaoh to prepare for this famine by storing grain during the fruitful years for the years of famine (Genesis 41:1-37).

Joseph’s interpretation of the dream and his advise were so pleasing to Pharaoh and his counselors that the king proposed the appointment of Joseph as minister of food, and granted him emergency powers. And the king elevated Joseph to the highest office under the crown (Genesis 41:43).

After this new appointment, Joseph got married, had two sons named Manasseh and Ephraim. And he carried out his role as governor of Egypt, storing up food during the years of plenty to sell to the Egyptians and neighboring nations during the years of famine (Genesis 41:38-57).

The Story of Joseph And His Brothers

The story of Joseph and his brothers began when the famine started. Jacob sent ten of his sons to Egypt to buy grain during the famine (Genesis 42:1-3). But he kept Benjamin, Joseph’s brother from Rachel, with him (Genesis 42:4). When the brothers met Joseph in Egypt, he knew them but they didn’t recognize him. To test their character, he charged them of being spies and kept them for three days. Afterwards, he released all but one and sent them with grain for their families. And he requested that they bring Benjamin back as proof of their original story of being 12 sons of one man, Jacob (Genesis 42:6-20).

At this point, the brothers felt that this mistreatment was payback for what they did to their brother (Genesis 42:21-22). Joseph heard what they discussed. And he left them to weep (Genesis 42:23-24). He kept Simeon and sent the others back and also returned their money in their grain sacks Genesis 42:25). The brothers were terrified when they found the money in their sacks (Genesis 42:26-28, 35). When they returned home, they told Jacob that they would need to take Benjamin with them once they ran out of grain. But he refused.

The Story of Joseph Testing His Brothers

Eventually, the famine forced Jacob to accept to send his children to Egypt. And Judah convinced his father to send Benjamin with them, giving his own life as a surety for his brother’s life (Genesis 43:1-10). This time, Jacob sent gifts and doubled the money for the grain with them (Genesis 43:11-14). When the brothers reached Egypt, Joseph commanded his servants to prepare a special meal for his brothers that he may eat with them (Genesis 43:15-17).

The brothers explained to Joseph’s steward about the money that was placed in their sacks and Joseph’s servant brought Simeon out (Genesis 43:18-25). When Joseph came to meet them, the brothers bowed to him, thus fulfilling Joseph'[s dream that he had seen before they sold him (Genesis 43:26).

Joseph asked about his family and was moved with emotion when he saw Benjamin his brother. So, he left the room to weep (Genesis 43:27-30). At the table, the brothers were seated according to their birth order. Benjamin was given five times more food than his brothers (Genesis 43:31-34). Yet, his brothers were not jealous of him.

Again, Joseph tested his brothers by returning their money in their grain sacks but this time he placed his silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. When his brothers left, he sent his servant after them accusing them of theft and threatening to take whoever had stolen the cup which was found in Benjamin’s sack. The brothers came back to Joseph and Judah begged for Benjamin’s life, saying that, if something happened to Benjamin their father would die. At this point, Judah offered his own life to save Benjamin (Genesis 44:18-34).

The Story of Joseph Forgiving His Brothers

Upon seeing this evidence of love to Benjamin, Jospeh knew that his brothers had changed. So, he dismissed his servants and wept so loudly that Pharaoh’s house heard him. Then, he revealed his identity to his brothers who were shocked and scared of what he might end up doing to them in retaliation for what they had done to him long ago (Genesis 45:1-8).

But Joseph forgave his brothers and told them that even though they betrayed him, God overruled their evil act for good (Genesis 50:15-21). The spirit of his heart was filled with forgiveness. Though acquainted by experience with human betrayal, he had never harbored any thoughts of resentment or hatred to his brothers.

Then, Joseph sent his brothers to bring Jacob and the whole family back to Egypt that they may live in the land of Goshen (Genesis 45:9-47:12). This area was one of the richest parts of Egypt with great anticipation.

Jacob longed for the reunion with his beloved son. The sight of Joseph would be a great compensation for all the long years of sorrow, suffering, and pain, and would crown his life with joy. But he feared that he might be going against God’s will in going to Egypt. Although, he wanted to see Joseph, he remembered the evil results of Abraham’s journey to Egypt (Genesis 12:14–20), and that God had once forbidden Isaac to go there during a famine (Genesis 26:2).

But God comforted Jacob at Beersheba and promised, “I am God, the God of your father; do not fear to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there” (Genesis 46:3). Thus, before leaving, Jacob received the assurance that God would go with him.

The Story of Joseph Reuniting With His Father

Joseph reunited with his beloved father Jacob. And father blessed Joseph and his sons, giving the greater blessing to the younger of the two sons (Genesis 48:12-20). The adoption of Joseph’s two elder sons placed him in the position of the first-born, so far as the inheritance was concerned.

The story of Joseph records that Jacob was 130 years old when he arrived at Egypt. Joseph had been 30 years old at the time of his appointment to office (Genesis 41:46). And since that time the 7 plentiful years (Genesis 41:47–49) and 2 years of famine had passed (Genesis 45:6). Now Joseph had reached the age of 39. And he lived 110 years (Genesis 50:22). He was 56 at his father’s death, and consequently outlived his father by 54 years.

Jacob’s family lived in a fertile region and were generously supported by Joseph (Genesis 47:12). Consequently, they flourished greatly. The result was not only an accumulation of riches but also a rapid increase in population.

Jacob’s descendants lived in Egypt until the time of Moses. When Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, he took the bones of Joseph with him, as Joseph had instructed (Genesis 50:24-25; Exodus 13:19). Later on, according to the story of Joseph, the children of Israel preserved Joseph’s remains and fulfilled his request for burial in Canaan.

Lessons From the Story of Joseph

In the story of Joseph, we learn that although he was treated with evil and malice, he did not abandon his faith in God nor stray away from His ways. He lived a pure and spotless life in a pagan land. And he remained faithful to God amid the most difficult of circumstances. His character stood true to principle under persistent temptations.

In his faithfulness to God, Joseph revealed sincerity, wisdom, and determination in adhering to principle. The stronger the temptation, the more resolute he became in resisting it. He was a great example to follow like Daniel and his friends during the Babylonian captivity. He exhibited full submission and unwavering trust in God’s providence.

According to the story of Joseph, we see the faithfulness of God to those that honor Him. What a drastic change the Lord had brought in the life of Joseph! His prison chains were exchanged for a chain of gold, the prisoner’s humble cloths for fine linen, his cell for a chariot, and his jail for a palace. Potiphar’s servant had become his lord. Humility goes before honor; servitude and suffering were the stepping-stones to power. How well was God’s faithful servant rewarded for his faithfulness, integrity, and patience!

Also, the story of Joseph teaches the virtue of forgiveness.  When God promoted Joseph to be second in command over all Egypt, he showed forgiveness and kindness to his brothers instead of vengeance and hate for their wickedness.  He declared to his brothers, “you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Genesis 50:20).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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